Excerpts from Donia Rozen's book "The Forest, My Friend"

Olena Hyrhoryshyn was a sixty-five year old woman, tired of life, crushed by the burden of hardship. She was all alone, with no friendly soul in the world, or a space she could call her own. Her only assets were her physical strength and her kind heart. She worked like a slave for meager bread. People abused her and mocked her; calling her a worthless fool. She would go from house to house, dressed in rags, sleeping at her work places, and sometimes outside. Her brother Stefan treated her with hostility and never cared for her ….But it was in this poor woman that I found kindness and humanity. When she saw me, Olena began crying, hugged me and I immediately felt her earnest warmth.

'I will help you for as long as I live and have the force to care for you', said the old woman and hugged me again. We both cried, and held each other. We shared a destiny, both of us had been deprived and suffered a bitter fate. Olena had experienced only poverty, had nothing except her good will and sincere heart, but was willing to sacrifice her last remaining strength for my sake….

….Our situation deteriorated daily. They were searching for me everywhere, following Olena around. There were moments when I thought that both of us would be defeated. The image in front of my eyes was of stormy waves, black and heavy skies, covered with clouds. But I could also see a ray of light from afar, penetrating the clouds. With my remaining strength I tried to dispel these thoughts, the fear and despair, and to maintain my self-control. I tried to be like Olena, who fought so bravely.

One evening the old woman came running and brought worrisome news. A pig had been stolen during the night from a farm not far from my hideout. The police had been informed and they would come to investigate and search the area. We felt the danger and had to leave immediately. At night Olena took me far into the forest. We climbed a steep mountain. I felt terrible fear that I would fall into the gorge. The mountain was covered with snow that had turned into ice. From time to time I would slip and fall. I held onto the branches, got up and continued to climb….When we finally reached the mountain top, we had to walk down and then climb another mountain. At last we arrived at a steep decline. I was terrorized by the terrible place that no one had ever set foot in. It seemed like a place created from the beginning of the world for people like me, who had to hide from the entire world, from human beings. Olena immediately began to work and within two hours had created a new hideout for me, made of branches and covered with wet leaves she had dug from under the snow. The opening was narrow, and I could hardly slip in. I had to lie inside, without moving, or I risked destroying it. Every night Olena would come to me. When she arrived I would quietly crawl out, eat the food she had brought, and silently move in again. I believe all the mice of the forest – grey, reddish and white, gathered in that place. They would accompany me day and night, crawling on my face, my hands, my legs, and I couldn't get rid of them. Different animals came out at night all around my hideout. I was terrified, but lay their patiently, as if someone had tied me up.